There are a few flashes of the old magic, but Adam Ant’s first album in 17 years is crying out for a producer who knows how to harness his feral talent
Adam Ant: Adam Ant Is The Blueblack Hussar In Marrying The Gunner’s Daughter
Blueblack Hussar, £12.99
AS ADAM Ant himself has pointed out, the symptoms of bipolarity – “sexually promiscuous, dressing up funny, behaving in an unusual manner, spending lots of money erratically and just generally being a nutcase” – are remarkably similar to the hallmarks of a flamboyant pop star.
But a decade ago, when he was poised to make a comeback appearance on the 1980s nostalgia tour Here & Now, it was Adam Ant the nutcase who made the headlines when he was arrested and charged with affray for brandishing a starting pistol on the streets of Camden.
He has since spoken candidly about his bipolar disorder – often describing himself as “up and down like a bride’s nightie” – and has steadily clawed back some of the old pop star profile from touring with his current band The Good, The Mad & The Lovely Posse. His gigs have been an encouraging meeting of two tribes – those who adhere fondly to his early punk incarnation and the legions of women of a certain age who fell for the dandy highwayman image and exultant tribal pop singles in the early 1980s.
Given his propensity for rambling rants at his shows, Ant seems content to nurse a bit of the madness and channel it into his current dandy pirateman persona as the Blueblack Hussar. Like the similarly troubled Kevin Rowland, he still takes pride in his natty threads. But he also – perhaps appropriately, given his latest incarnation – displays a cavalier attitude on this new 17-track opus – one for every year since his last album release.
Adam Ant Is The Blueblack Hussar In Marrying The Gunner’s Daughter is as sprawling as its title, a messy collection comprising mainly demo quality recordings, possibly in a misguided attempt to recapture the lowslung punk insouciance of old.
His principal co-writers here are Morrissey’s longstanding sideman Boz Boorer and Chris McCormack, formerly of Britrockers 3 Colours Red, but a handful of tracks were written with his old Adam & the Ants sparring partner Marco Pirroni in the late 90s. Pirroni and Ant have since parted ways, replaced by a band who will do his bidding. Consequently, this album sorely lacks a firm hand on its shoulder to tighten up the music.
Things begin hopefully enough with the autobiographical Cool Zombie, a lowslung blues rocker co-written with Oasis/Beady Eye guitarist Andy Bell which harks back to the time he spent in Tennessee in the late 90s and to the disaster waiting to happen: “the dead man eyes a giveaway, his baby blues a thousand miles away”. Shrink, an industrial rock howl about his dealings with the mental healthcare system, is even franker: “Is it me or is it just medication?”
On Vince Taylor, he riffs on his affinity with the ill-starred 50s rock’n’roller who was said to be the inspiration for Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust incarnation and whose Brand New Cadillac was covered by The Clash, recalling that he “must have left his mark on me, even liked by Morrissey”. There’s a “dear diary” whimsy to the lyrics but, with a bit more finessing, this could have met its potential.
He also pays tribute to his punk mentors. Vivienne’s Tears, a sweet Velvet Underground-influenced paean to Vivienne Westwood, sits back to back with a re-recording of Who’s A Goofy Bunny Then?, a lethargic jam about Malcolm McLaren which drags on for nearly six minutes and feels even longer. One can only imagine the state of the original demo from the early 80s.
At times, it is hard to credit that this is the finished product, and decent songs suffer as a result. Punkyounggirl’s broody, queasy tale of a messed up Lolita who thinks that “nothing tastes as good as skinny feels”, the renegade country punk number How Can I Say I Miss You, with Ant’s trademark layered yelping vocals, mid-paced glam rocker Sausage and Cockney garage sneer Hardmentoughblokes, which satirises tough-guy film stars, are all tarnished by the lack of rigorous production values. Only the stealthy post-punk prowl Stay In The Game is suited to the muddy sound quality.
Some numbers are beyond help anyway, such as Marrying The Gunner’s Daughter, a half-spoken, half-arsed blend of funk, punk and synth pop, and Cradle Your Hatred, a largely tuneless and not entirely contrite Ant rap apology.
Often, it sounds like Ant hasn’t found the right vehicle for his braying, untutored vocal style. He gets it right on Bullshit, where a John Lydonesque belligerence is combined with a bit of that old Ant audacity. But he needs a producer or wingman who can harness that feral streak and help him exploit it effectively. Maybe then this fondly regarded pop outlaw will be able to stand and deliver.